The Best Medicine

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It’s amazing how infectious a little humor can be.

The sound of a chuckle, snicker, giggle or hearty guffaw is more contagious than that bug that is going around the office.  And when laughter is shared at one of your Taekwondo events, it really brings everyone together and creates a source of happiness.

 “Human connection and mutual support is a hallmark of the species,” said Wendy L. Ward, Associate Director of Wellness at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences College of Medicine.

“Quite simply we are wired to seek and enjoy human interaction and laughing and humor are one of the most pleasant experiences as part of that interaction.” 

And the bonus?  Just like exercise, laughter is actually good for your emotional, physical and social health.

According to the health resources website HelpGuide.org, laugher relaxes the whole body, relieving physical tension and stress; it boosts the immune system; helps improve the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow; and triggers a release in endorphins, which promote a sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.

“There have been several studies that show people who are in chronic pain [and] when they laugh, their pain doesn’t subjectively bother them, like the same levels when they’re not laughing,” said Dr. Justin Hunt, medical director of the Comprehensive Diagnostic Service at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and an assistant professor in UAMS Department of Psychiatry.

In terms of emotional benefits, having a chuckle can elevate your mood and even reduce depression, anxiety and fear.  Cognitively, it is shown to increase your ability to cope with stress, enhance creativity, and also changed your perspective “allowing you to see situations in a more realistic, less stressful light,” Ward said. 

 It’s difficult to determine how laughter actually causes these health benefits, but there are some outside variables that might answer that question.

“The health benefits could be tied to the stronger social situations or it could be [tied back to] a personality structure—people who are more positive might be more prone to laughing,” she said.

Take for instance, Laurie Peterson, an attorney for the Office of the General of the United States Department of Agriculture in Little Rock, Ark. and a 5th Degree Black Belt, whose positive attitude carries her every day in her job, family life and Taekwondo.

“Emotionally, it’s hard to be down when you are enjoying life and what you are doing,” she said.  “I know I can improve any day with Taekwondo.” 

When you’re not in Taekwondo class, though, keeping the social lines open is crucial for a happy and healthy life.

“When you hear laughter, go toward it and try to join in with them,” Ward said.  “Keep fun people in your life and spend time with them.  And don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself.” 

She said some of the fun things you can do to inject more fun into your life are playing with your house pets, watching a funny movie or TV show, or even reading a funny book.”

            “Enjoying fun activities often will naturally lead to laughter and amusement.”

Between work and managing the home, it is easy to become overwhelmed, isolated and withdrawn.  The easiest way to get out of a rut is enjoying human interaction. 

Peterson said both of her biological parents passed away, which could have kept her from being successful.  Instead, she chose to be optimistic in her endeavors. 

“Neither had a chance to meet my children or see me win a World Championship,” she said.  “Instead of walling in self-pity for not having these people in my life, I choose to laugh, enjoy life and be happy.  For me, life is too short to be a pessimist.” 

 

Author: Lauren James | Originally published in Vol. 21 no. 1 of the ATA World Magazine.

Source: Flickr.com/Photos/Nosha 
License: CC BY-SA 2.0

 

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